Facing Backlash: Defending the VT Rebrand

If you didn’t hear, Virginia Tech rolled out a new marketing campaign this week that included a new logo. They dropped the Pylons and the “Invent the Future” tagline, and instead went with a version more similar to the Athletics logo. They added a slight curve to the two letters, citing “It’s one very simple line, but it’s open, that openness is inclusion and diversity.” Needless to say, the reaction on Reddit and social media has not been very positive.
After seeing a Reddit post that wanted to start a witch hunt for the firm responsible for the VT rebranding, I felt like I needed to say something in the defense of the design team.

Now, before I get into this I have to admit I’m not a traditional Hokie. I never went to Virginia Tech, but I did live and work in Blacksburg for 6 years — longer than the average undergrad. In that time I developed a fondness for VT and even slapped a Hokie sticker on my car when I moved from the area. I consider myself an “adopted Hokie” and now have maroon and orange proudly in my wardrobe.

I’m not going to debate that the logo is perfect. Personally, I would have liked to see something different from the athletics logo because VT is more than football. But I believe in the firm that presented this direction and I don’t think the armchair designers on Reddit know the full story. As as an adopted Hokie and designer myself, I plead that you put down the pitchforks (for the time being).

The university branding is all over the place

If you’re reading this, I assume you know me or understand the importance of establishing a solid look and feel. When was the last time VT had a serious look at its current brand? I used to work on a few projects for VT, the branding was inconsistent overall and I struggled to find the right assets or guidelines to tell me what to do. Finding a correct maroon was an absolute nightmare — the existing brand guide’s was too pink and I ALWAYS had clients commenting on it.

When you look at that logo and hear “WHAT? This was part of a $1 million initiative to put together?” it’s hard to look past what was involved. There was an existing mess of inconsistencies, and VT needed to take a serious look at cleaning it up. That price sounds about right with how much it’d cost. When I worked on a UVA project, as much as I hate to admit it, there was a much clearer direction on the color palette and fonts. VT’s brand was old and took hours to decrypt for any external project. I’d honestly love to work on another VT project if it meant I could get answers on the proper colors, fonts and assets.

There was (hopefully) research put into this

Designers are used to preparing for backlash after “moving someone’s cheese,” but most of the time it’s shrugged off because you know you’ve made informed design decisions. Just look at how consumers react to a Facebook or Youtube facelift every few months. In the higher education world, the loudest people in this space are typically alumni or current students.

This is all speculation, but I’m going to assume that a $1 million branding initiative did not come into the world without some serious testing and research first. Usually, concepts are A/B tested with an audience. In higher ed, that audience tends to be prospective students. When you compare the two logos, I can definitely see the Gen Z audience picking the new logo over the pylon one.

There’s never just one concept

There are sketches, there are revisions, there is testing…it’s so much more work than just adding one little curve. 30 logos were probably presented to VT and this is the one the client picked. If you don’t know anything about how difficult it can be to get unanimous agreement from university stakeholders, I would be more than happy to explain to you the long, lengthy process that it is sometime.

We need to see how it’ll be applied first

Twenty years ago, when a company would launch a rebrand, consumers often saw those changes gradually. Business cards, letterheads, a few page designs. The rebranding was a slow process and didn’t just happen overnight.

We live in a mobile first world now. Rebranding is way more immediate and personal. Universities have to prep themselves for that reaction as not everyone responds to change very well. So far, we got a sneak preview on Twitter and the university website launch. I won’t argue that the website needs work, but I am interested to see how it’ll be applied to other things. Universities evolve, advance, and grow. There is a stale past that the previous brand had, and I encourage you to try and be open and see what comes next.

“But I don’t care about the process, I still hate it.”

Chill, rest assured VT is still listening. Besides the Reddit witch hunt and protests, I’d actually be flattered to see this much passion about a logo. This reaction is only natural. It means the student and alumni population is loyal and feels connected enough to speak out. They’re invested in this and want to be a part of the change. And maybe this logo is not the right direction — in some rare cases, logos will even revert back. But just keep in mind that brands do evolve, and a company that stands still will be left behind. There needs to be change somewhere.

I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer for you if you want the old logo back. I’d actually be surprised if Virginia Tech sticks to their guns on this one. But I hope I presented another side to the story you may not have known, and you’ll understand that starting a protest or witch hunt is not the right approach here.

Now that I have that off my chest — Let’s go, Hokies!

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